At a time when there is no shortage of depressing news on the state of women working in technology or, well, working pretty much anywhere, the tech-literate women of “Mr. Robot” are an optimistic respite.
We first see Angela Moss (Portia Doubleday) holding an agitated conversation with her boss after a well-coordinated hack against their company’s biggest client. Her childhood friend Elliot (Rami Malek), also the show’s narrator, introduces her as “a bit high-strung” yet still “one of the good ones” as she struggles to clean up the cybersecurity mess. We first glimpse Darlene (Carly Chaikin) in a dilapidated arcade, tapping away at her laptop. Later, she confronts Elliot, leaning moodily against the arcade with a cigarette. “Cut the bullshit,” she demands, ending with an insult ― “dickhead” ― before stalking away.
As the hacker drama’s two female leads, Angela and Darlene make for nicely rounded characters. Angela’s journey through Season 1 sees a capable yet not fully confident cybersecurity professional become just that, and someone who now makes seemingly impossible decisions on her own. Daredevil malware hacker Darlene, although not undergoing such a radical transformation as Angela, is fleshed out ― without giving too much away — through her backstory over the season, revealing her ties to Elliot and other characters.
Of course, “Mr. Robot” is a show about Elliot. It tells the story of fSociety, a group of hacker-activists attempting to erase consumer debt held by one evil conglomerate, E Corp. Elliot and a small group of others, including Darlene, join the group led by a mysterious man named Mr. Robot (Christian Slater), while Angela unknowingly skirts its sharp edges. The show spends most of its time on Elliot’s mental instability along with his and Mr. Robot’s extensive planning, but subplots featuring its supporting women are often more compelling as they’re caught up in a few legally dubious plots of their own. When female characters are still often relegated to girlfriend, wife and mother roles, “Mr. Robot” offers a nice change.
“There’s so many scripts that I read that have ‘romantic interest,’ ‘romantic interest,’ and that defines the character that you’re playing, that they’re just a ‘romantic interest,’” Doubleday told The Huffington Post. “And I remember when I sat with Sam [Esmail, the show creator] after the pilot, he was like, ‘No way.’”
Of the few TV series revolving around tech and business, fewer show women working in these environments in roles central enough to the plot that we see them develop over the course of a season.
HBO’s “Silicon Valley,” for example, while brilliantly parodying the ineffable California tech scene, has faced criticism over its lack of female characters, however accurately that may reflect reality there. It was nice that “CSI: Cyber” featured one woman hacker, although the show was canceled after two seasons. Women characters have less to contribute to “Billions,” set on Wall Street, and they behave similarly on the white-collar-crime-related melodrama “Suits.” Unsurprisingly, an analysis by FiveThirtyEight found that female characters are second-most underrepresented in “business” roles. (The first-most underrepresented profession for women, oddly, is bartending.)
Having worked on the USA series for nearly two seasons — Season 2 airs beginning July 13 ― the “Mr. Robot” stars offered up a little advice to aspiring showrunners on writing lady characters.
“I think with any show or film or project, what people respond to the most is emulating real life,” Chaikin told HuffPost. “And in real life, women are in the tech world, they’re more competent than men ― equal if not more competent than men.” Doubleday agreed, saying “a lot of trends [in writing women] play into stereotypes that are of the past.” That is, women in business and tech aren’t shown on screen because they don’t work in business and tech off screen.
Chaikin explained how, in fact, her character didn’t even strike her as unusual when she first read the script, only realizing it afterward when others pointed out the rarity of Darlene-types on TV.
“To me, it was just like, ‘Of course that character exists!’ Because that person exists in real life,” she said.
“Mr. Robot” Season 2 debuts Wednesday, July 13, at 10 p.m. ET on USA.